This coming Friday fight fans at the EDION Arena Osaka will get the chance to see 23 year old hopeful Riku Kano (17-4-1, 8) look to defend his WBO Asia Pacific Light Flyweight title for the first time, as he takes on the once touted Takumi Sakae (22-3-1, 16). On paper this really is a strange one. Both men are relatively young, with Kano being 23 and Sakae being 27, but neither man is in a position where they can afford a loss. At least not if they want to land a big fight in the next few years. They are two men who desperately need the regional title to remain relevant, and knowing that can often add a lot of excess pressure on to a fighter's back.
Of he two men the more well known is Riku Kano, the 23 year old champion who was once being groomed as the next Japanese wunderkind, though has sadly fallen well short of expectations. He debuted at the age of 16 in the Philippines, and despite losing on debut bounced back quickly and won the WBA Asia Minimumweight title just a year later. He then went on to win the OPBF "interim" title and fought Katsunari Takayama for the WBO world title in 2016, aged just 18! Sadly however Takayama out worked him on route to claiming a technical decision. Since that loss Kano has never really looked like a special talent, losing inside the distance to Jerry Tomogdan and Shin Ono, and struggling in other wins, including victories over Naoya Haruguchi, Tetsuya Mimura and, most recently, Ryoki Hirai.
Although once regarded as a genius prospect Kano's failings have become more and more apparent over the years. Against Takayama he was outworked by a man around twice his age, against Tomgodan he was broken and battered, against Ono we saw Kano pretty much fall apart and unravel after a cut, showing questionable heart, and in other bouts, even his wins, we've had to question his work rate and hunger. He pretty much comes across as a fighter missing a lot of the most vital tools for a star. Despite that there is still a lot to like about Kano, and you can understand why so many were excited about him at the age of 17. He's quick, he's sharp, he's light on his feet, has a good sense of distance and timing, and understands what he needs to do in the ring. He just sadly misses a lot of the physical traits needed to take that understanding and make it work in the ring. There's almost a sense that he thinks he's as good as he was told he was, and doesn't like it when fighters take it to him, and it almost offends him that fighters try to beat him. And rather than fighting with fire, he tends to crumble a little bit.
Takumi Sakae on the other hand turned professional in 2011 and ended up winning the All Japan Rookie of the Year in 2013. He seemed to be moving towards success when he won the IBF Youth Light Flyweight title in 2015, but his rise through the ranks his a wall in 2016 when he lost to the then Japanese national champion Tatsuya Fukuhara. That was the start of a bad patch in his career as a technical draw to Lito Dante followed and a technical loss to Ryoki Hirai wasn't far behind. He had gone from a 22 year old with a 13-0 record to a 23 year old with a 14-2-1 record in the space of just 9 months. To rebuild he took on some very limited opponents, stropping 4 of his following 5, before losing against, this time to Norihito Tanaka in a Japanese title eliminator in 2018. Since then he has gone backwards, again, and faced very poor foes to try and rebuild some momentum.
On paper Sakae's record looks good, and not many fighters at 105lbs or 108lbs will have 16 stoppages in 22 wins. That makes him look like a legitimate puncher. In reality however his competition has been dreadful, and he's struggled when he's had to fight decent to good opposition. Sadly he's been stuck without a major promoter, fighting in Fukuoka, and not been able to develop his skills, and early potential has floundered, badly. He was also not helped but really never being able to get the fights he needed to prepare for his best opponents. Despite his flawed however Sakae isn't a bad fighter, he's just not one who has massively developed. He's got decent pop, a good work rate, he's tough, he comes to fight and, sadly, that can also lead to head clashes, and fights getting messy.
We feel that Kano is the better boxer, the more talented boxer, and the more technically skilled fighter. However we also know that skills aren't always the be all and end all, and sometimes the styles of the fighters involved is key and we actually think that will be the case here. We think that Kano's negativity will cause him a lot or problems against Sakai, who will trudge forward all day, and try to take the fight to the youngster. Kano won't have the power to get Sakae's respect and we actually see the challenger basing his game plan on that of Shin Ono. If he does that there is a very genuine chance he ends up stopping Kano here, at least if he comes with some real hunger.
We're picking the upset for this one, and going with a Sakae win, a career saving Sake win, by stoppage in the later stages of the fight.
Prediction - Sakae TKO11
On July 23rd we get a genuinely interesting WBO Asia Pacific Middleweight title bout, as veteran champion Yuki Nonaka (34-10-3, 10) takes on the once touted Koki Koshikawa (9-2, 6). Although the bout isn't a big one, and won't get much international attention, it is a really interesting one with a lot of sub-stories around it and different threads that need unpicking before the bout comes around.
For those unaware Nonaka is one of the real stalwarts of Japanese boxing. The now 43 year old began his career way back in 1999, and did so with some very mixed results going 2-3 in his first 5. Unlikely many fighters that have great longevity Nonaka really struggle early on. In fact at the age of 31 he was 19-7-2 (7), though by that point he had unified the Japanese and OPBF Light Middleweight titles. Amazingly since then Nonaka has gone 15-3-1 (3), reclaiming the Japanese title at 154lbs, and later winning the unified WBO Asia Pacific and OPBF titles at 160lbs whilst having a sensational late run to his career. Not only has he been getting good results, but also beating solid fighters, like Charles Bellamy, Yuto Shimizu, Ryosuke Maruki and Shinobu Charlie Hosokawa, all of whom were younger than Nonaka.
What has really been the key to Nonaka's success is his boxing brain and his fitness. He's never been a man with much power, or much speed, but he's a physical fit fighter with a really good boxing brain, in fact he almost beat Takeshi Inoue, by just keeping things simple, using good movement and countering the bull like Inoue. Not only is he smart, and does the little things really well, but he's also a tall, rangy southpaw, giving opponents even more problems in landing clean on him. It's also worth noting that his defense is, usually, very good and in his 47 professional bouts he has only been stopped once, and that was way back in 2002.
However with all that said it now needs noting that Nonaka hasn't fought in almost 2 years, with his last bout coming in September 2019 when he was run surprisingly close by Korean Hyun Min Yang, who was aggressive, busy and came to fight. Nonaka was cut in that fight, around the nose, and it was a really messy, tough bout that seemed to suggest father time was getting to him. And that was 2 years ago. We really need to wonder how's he going to look with the ring rusty at the age of 43. Can he still dig deep and can he still show the same skills and timing he did earlier in his career?
Koki Koshikawa made his professional debut in 2014 following an solid amateur background that saw him going 46-25 (23). He was expected to be moved quickly by the Celes gym, and debuted in 6 rounders before quickly moving into 8 rounders. Sadly however a loss in his 5th bout, to Koshinmaru Saito, slowed his ascent and he was out of the ring for more than 2 years afterwards. When he returned to the ring he scored 5 straight wins, but the most notable of those were a stoppage over former Japanese interim champion Daisuke Sakamoto and a close decision over Ratchasi Sithsaithong, with neither being a real headline grabbing win. Despite his competition he managed to get a shot at the Japanese Light Middleweight champion Hironobu Matsunaga in 2019, and despite looking good in the first round Koshikawa was broken down in 4 as Matsunaga retained his belt.
Sadly since losing to Matsunaga, in November 2019, we've not seen Koshikawa in the ring, and overall his career has fallen a long way short of expectations. He was supposed to be a domestic force, but lost to the two most notable domestic fighters he's faced. He has been outboxed by one and stopped by another, and coming in to this fight he's also moving up in weight.
Koshikawa is inactive, he's failed in his biggest fights, and he's moving up to Middleweight for the first time. However he can't be written off here. He was a good amateur, he has a decent boxing brain, at 30 years old he's pretty much in his prime and he will know this is his last chance to shine following the loss to Matsunaga. He has the boxing skills to be a problem, he has speed and decent movement, he lets his hands go well but he's also someone who has struggled on the bigger stages, and has come apart under pressure.
In their primes, there is no doubt that we'd strongly favour Nonaka. His skills, boxing brain, punch picking, timing and ring control of distance would be too much. He would catch Koshikawa coming in and rely on his straight shots, getting Koshikawa's respect, and racking up the rounds. Koshikawa would likely see out the schedule, but would look a bruised, beaten, battered man by the end of 12 rounds.
In their current guise however we really wouldn't be shocked by father time catching up with Nonaka. The veteran struggling to pull the trigger at times, falling short, being under pressure and missing when he does through. His body breaking down in front of us.
We're huge fans of Nonaka, and his career has been truly remarkable, but we actually suspect Koshikawa's youth and hunger will be a major issue, and he will manage to break down the veteran.
Prediction - TKO9 Koshikawa
On July 14th we get another sensation regional title match up in Japan as the unbeaten pairing of Ginjiro Shigeoka (5-0, 4) and Toshiki Kawamitsu (6-0, 3) clash for the WBO Asia Pacific Minimumweight title, which Shigeoka will be trying to defend for the second time. The match up pits two touted youngsters against each other in a bout that not only looks good on paper, but should also be a stylistic joy to watch with the two men having very different styles, but styles that should gel really well.
The talented, yet diminutive, Ginjiro Shigeoka was a standout amateur in Japan, only losing a single bout in the unpaid ranks, before turning professional in 2018 with very high expectations on his shoulders. He quickly showed what he could do, as an aggressive, explosive, boxer-puncher. He raced through the ranks, winning his regional title less than 12 months after his debut and seemed on the verge of stardom at the end of 2019, when stopped former world title challenger Rey Loreto.
At that point in time Shigeoka was the hottest prospect in Japanese boxing and as we entered 2020 it seemed he was only a fight or two away from a world title shot. And then Covid hit and Shigeoka hasn't fought since the pandemic started, costing him a lot of momentum and around 19 months of his career. Thankfully however he is still only 21 years old.
Prior to his break from the ring Shigeoka looked like he had all the tools to go a very, very long way. He was quick, sharp, physically imposing, picked his shots well, with great power up top and to the body, and despite being a born puncher he was scary quick. He looked like the only thing he was lacking was a little bit of experience, and he was rushing things just a little bit at times, but for a novice he looked like a nailed on future world champion and like a future star of Japanese boxing. Sadly with such a long lay off, it's hard to know just what he'll look like here. Will he be as sharp as he used to be? Will he be as hungry as he once was?
Aged 25 Toshiki Kawamitsu is not someone many outside of Japanese would have been too aware of until left year. That's despite the fact he was a solid amateur himself, and looked good in his early bouts, showing good technical skills, a nice engine and a good work rate. It wasn't until 2020 however that he really made a mark on the sport, upsetting former amateur standout Kenshi Noda in what was a genuine gem of a clash in October. He then build on that by taking out Kosuke Ando in January 2021, when he was called as a late replacement. With those two wins, and 6th round TKO over Yuni Takada, he has 3 solid domestic wins, all by stoppage, coming into this bout.
In the ring Kawamitsu is a good technical fighter, who enjoys fighting up close, applying educated pressure, picking his shots well, taking counter shots on the arms, and breaking down opponents with his clean punching. Since moving beyond 4 rounders he has really impressed with his work rate, accuracy, and ability to find holes in defense whilst mentally and physically forcing fighters to crumble. He does, at times, look a little bit like he could be hurt by a big puncher, and Noda did seem to rock him at one point. Not only does he have a good style though, it also seems he'd comfortable moving up and down the scales, with his last 3 fighters taking place at Minimumweight, Light Flyweight and Flyweight, and the reality is that his frame could fill into a good sized Super Flyweight down the line.
Had this bout been taking place early to mid 2020 it would have been one where we would have been confidently picking Shigeoka. He looked like someone special whilst Kawamitsu looked like a capable, but inexperienced, novice. Now however the bouts is actually a trickier on to pick. Especially given how Kawamitsu has looked in his last few bouts. We would still favour Shigeoka, his power, speed and physicality are terrifying and his body shots are crippling. However this is not a foregone conclusion. There's a chance that Kawamitsu could survive the power of Shigeoka, and could begin to grind down the inactive and rusty champion. The size difference could be key, and Kawamitsu is significantly bigger than Shigeoka, and the styles of the bout could also play a major fact.
We suspect Shigeoka will want to get close to Kawamitsu, but at the same time that's actually Kawamitsu's wheel house, as we saw against Noda where he protected himself well up close, and landed a lot of shots, wearing down Noda. If he can do that against Shigeoka he could end up stopping the champion. But that is a big "if".
We're expecting Shigeoka to look rusty for a round or two, to be under pressure from Kawamitsu, and to genuinely struggle with the bigger man. But eventually the power of Shigeoka will get the break through he needs, likely with a body shot, and he'll take out Kawamitsu in the toughest bout of his career, so far.
Prediction - TKO7 Sheigoka
This coming Wednesday we get the chance to see a really compelling match up in New South Wales as under-rated Filipino slugger Joe Noynay (18-2-2, 7) looks to defend his WBO Asia Pacific Super Featherweight title against unbeaten Australian challenger Liam Wilson (9-0, 6). For Wilson the bout is a massive step up in class and his first for a well regarded internationally recognised title, whilst the bout will be Noynay's first in Australia and his first in well over 18 months. For the winner the WBO Asia Pacific title is a major honour, but the winner will also begin a real move towards getting a world title fight, making this bout a genuinely significant one.
Of the two men it's Noynay who is the more well known and the more recognisable. Although not a major star the 25 year old southpaw is a very dangerous fighter with a solid record and has shown no fear of fighting on the road. In fact many of Noynay's best performance have been on the road, including a very competitive loss with Reiya Abe back in 2017, along with wins over Jinxiang Pan, Kosuke Saka and a career best win over Satoshi Shimizu. Not only has he impressed on the road, but he also seems to get more aggressive when fighting on foreign soil and has shown under-rated power, with his punches being much more destructive than a typical fighter with a 32% KO rate. That actually is likely due to the fact he went the distance a lot early in his career, after debuting as a teenager.
During his career Noynay has proven to be a fighter who can box, though his boxing is usually quite clumsy, and puncher. He's shown good patience in bouts, but when he lands clean he can hurt guys. Sometimes he is a bit too rough around the edges to really show what he can do, as we saw in his most recent bout against Kenichi Ogawa in what was a messy affair plagued by head clashes, but he is more skilled than some would give him credit for. He's also very tough and took some big bombs from Satoshi Shimizu, and Kosuke Saka, before stopping both of those men. He will believe in his chin, his power, and experience here.
Wilson, also 25, was a very solid amateur competing in a variety of major international tournaments such as the 2018 Common Wealth Games and the 2014 AIBA Youth World Championships. Unlike Noynay he is a boxer first, and his amateur fundamentals do show when he's in the ring. As a professional however he's very unproven with just 9 bouts since making his debut in June 2018. To date his most notable results are a decision win over Brent Rice for the Australian national title in 2018, a KO win over Jesus Cuadro, a TKO win over Rodynie Rafor and a 10 round decision win over Francis Chua earlier this year. He's managed to go 10 rounds a few times but has never shared the ring with someone like Noynay before.
In the ring Wilson is an aggressive boxer. He's technically well schooled, looks very relaxed in the ring and puts his shots together well, however we have seen him taking risks and being punished for them, as he was against Jackson Woods in 2020, when he was clearly hurt in the opening round. He has gotten away with it in the past but there's a good chance his aggressive nature, and surprisingly sloppy defense, could be an issues against a heavy handed fighter like Noynay here. He often stands in front of opponents, and relies on his own crisp punches, to get to opponents but he is certainly there to be hit.
Coming in to this Wilson should be regarded as the favourite. He has the amateur pedigree, he has home advantage and he has a lot of momentum behind him, helped in part by being active over the last 18 months or so, in fact he's fought 5 times since Noynay was last in the ring. We however would not be surprised, at all, if Noynay ended up doing what Woods, among others, couldn't. Noynay is a hungry fighter, the reigning champion and a man risking a lot here, including the WBO Asia Pacific title and several world rankings. He'll be there looking to take Wilson's head off, and we suspect, sooner or later, he will land with a huge left hand and will close in for the finish, taking Wilson out. We really do think this is too soon for Wilson, and comes far, far too early in his career. Wilson will have success, and is dangerous himself, but we really do think this is perhaps 2 or 3 fights too early in his career.
Prediction - TKO6 Noynay
This coming Thursday we'll see world ranked Japanese Flyweight Ryota Yamauchi (7-1, 6) look to make his first defense of the WBO Asia Pacific Flyweight title as he takes on domestic challenger Yuta Nakayama (8-3-1, 5), in what is a step up in class for Nakayama. On paper this looks a bit of a mismatch, but on the other hand it is good to see Yamauchi staying busy, after a rather frustrating 2019 and 2020 and it does give his second shot at a professional title.
Of the two men the star here is the champion. The Kadoebi promoted 26 year old is among the most exciting young fighters in Japan, with an aggressive mentality, heavy hands and flawed defense. Those things together make him a must watch fighter and unlike many youngsters in the sport he hasn't tried to pad out his record. In fact in his first 8 bouts he has faced 6 fighters with winning records, and has fought on foreign soil, and has picked up several very, very good wins. They include victories over Lester Abutan, Yota Hori, Alphoe Dagayloan and Satoru Todaka. Sadly he does have a loss on his record, but it was a controversial one in China to Chinese fighter Wulan Tuolehazi, in a bout that saw both men hit the canvas.
In the ring Yamauchi is aggressive, he has some brilliant body shots in his arsenal, but sadly he's some defensively naive, and Wulan landed big straight head shots on him time and time again. Also he has been cut in bouts, notable against Alphoe Dagayloan, and it's fair to say that there is a lot of work he can do defensively. Despite that he's big, he's strong, he's powerful and he comes to fight. He might take a shot, but he'll look to land some himself in return, and applies consistent, calculated pressure coming forward, which means his fights will, typically, be fun to watch.
Nakayama on the other hand has been a professional since 2016 and hasn't really managed to shine. He began his career going 1-1-1 before reeling off 5 straigth wins, building some moment against some some poor opposition. Since then however he has gone 2-2, before stopped twice, and hasn't looked like he belongs at title level. His most notable bouts so far are losses to Ryuto Oho, who beat him in a JBC Youth title fight, and Yuto Takahashi, who stopped him in a round before going on to win the Japanese Light Flyweight title. Although Oho and Takahashi are, or in Takahashi's case was, decent neither man is a big puncher, and neither man is a naturally strong and powerful fighter yet both stopped him. In regards to his best win, it's probably his TKO win over MJ Bo, a man that Yamauchi has also beaten.
Although not a bad fighter, by any stretch, Nakayama is also not a great fighter. He lacks fight changing power, his defensive is open and when he throws shots they are often very wide, leaving him even more open. He has a nice jab, his best punch, but it's hard enough to get respect from opponents and he seems to struggle with pressure, as we saw against Oho. There's a good boxer there, or at least the potential for him to be a good boxer, but in reality, he's very, very much a work in progress and it's a shame in many ways that he's so early in his development. With some polish he has got the potential to make a mark on the domestic scene, but as he is he's the sort of fighter who is made to order for Yamauchi.
We expect to see the champion pressing from the opening bell, getting inside and breaking down Nakayama with body shots. They will take the legs away from the challenger, who will struggle to get his own shows off. After 2 or 3 rounds Nakayama will be feeling the pressure and will either be broken down to the point of the referee stopping it after a knockdown or his corner pulling him out accepting the bout is a lost cause.
Prediction - TKO3 Yamauchi.
In 2020 we saw very, very few fighters have years that will define their careers. One of the few exceptions was Japanese Super Flyweight Ryoji Fukunaga (13-4, 13) who had a career defining as he went 2-0 (2) and went from having never held a title as a professional to being the unified Japanese, OPBF and WBO Asia Pacific Flyweight champion. He did that by scoring two legitimately solid wins as well, defeating Froilan Saludar and Kenta Nakagawa, and came in to 2021 with some real momentum. As we write this he is also holding world rankings with 3 of the 4 major title bodies. At 34 however he can ill afford a slip up, and he'll be well aware of that going into his first bout of 2021,against Takahiro Fujii (12-6-1, 3) on June 21st. That bout will see Fukunaga defending two of the titles he unified last year, and look to continue moving towards a potential world title fight. On the other hand the bout will also be a huge, and somewhat unexpected, title shot for Fujii.
Aged 34 Fukunaga is a heavy handed southpaw who turned professional in 2013 aged 26, and struggled early in his career. He lost on debut, and was 4-2 (4) after 6 bouts. Since then however he has turned things around, going 9-2 (9) winning the All Japan Rookie of the Year, as well as becoming a triple crown champion.
In the ring Fukunaga has a lot of technical flaws. He's easy to hit, he's not particularly quick and a lot of what he does looks forced. Despite that he's not an easy man to beat. He's got rocks for hands, and what he hits he hurts. He's got a great will to win, and excellent stamina, and even in rounds 9 and 10 he can still be found throwing a lot of bombs. He's also learned how to use his experience well, and when he needs to he can "old man" his opponents, go for a walk, catch his breath and then come forward again. At 34 we do wonder how much he has left in the tank, especially after wars with Saludar and Nakagawa last year, with both of those bouts being incredibly punishing, but we also get the feeling he and his team have picked a bit of a patsy here, to keep him ticking over in a stay defense, rather than a genuine challenge.
Fujii is a fellow southpaw, and is slightly younger than the Fukunaga, aged 32, but he's also much less accomplished and is taking a massive step up in class. He began his career back in 2010, with a draw against Satoshi Obata, and was 6-3-1 (2) after 10 bouts. Sadly it wasn't just early on that he had mixed results and he's actually 6-3 (1) in his last 9 bouts. What hasn't helped him is that he been very inconsistent with results, and every time he gets a win, he then slips up soon afterwards. At least he did until very recently, and he's currently riding a rare winning streak, having won his last 3 bouts with a decent win over Sonin Nihei. Sadly though that 3 win streak dates back to 2018, showing a lack of activity to go with his lack of consistency.
When it comes to what Fujiii can do in the ring, one thing that needs mentioning is that he lacks power. Of any kind. He has only scored a single stoppage win since 2015. That sort of power will leave him needing to rely on his boxing skills against a guy like Fukunaga, who is a monstrous puncher who can really hurt people. Fujii has only been stopped once, very early in his career, but we suspect that he'll struggle with the power, work rate and aggression of Fukunaga, especially over 12 rounds. The guy can fight, but he's been fighting fringe domestic level fighters, and he's now leaping up to regional title level, with nothing to prepare him for what he's getting himself into here.
Fukunaga has had punishing bouts. He has taken a lot in his last two bouts, but this is a smart match up from his team. Matching him easily for his return to the ring, and we suspect he'll shake a bit of ring rust through the early part of the fight, before taking out Fujii in the middle rounds. The champion might lose a few rounds early on, but he'll be far too much for the challenger and will take him out sooner or later.
Prediction - TKO7 Fukunaga
One of the best things about Japanese boxing right now is the Featherweight division, which is red hot with talent, and has a brilliant variety of styles among it's top fighters. You have pure boxers, like Reiya Abe and Ryo Sagawa, you have warriors like Tsuyoshi Tameda and Daisuke Watanabe, you have boxer-punchers, like Hinata Maruta, and emerging prospects, like Jinki Maeda and Ryuto Owan. The division in Japan is bursting at the seams, even if international fans aren't really paying it much attention. Yet. It's inevitable that at least one of the top Japanese Featherweights will make a mark at the top level in the coming years, and it's a case of when, and not if, we see one of them fighting for, and potentially winning, a world title.
The division is set for another huge bout in Japan on May 21st as OPBF champion Satoshi Shimizu (9-1, 9) takes on WBO Asia Pacific champion Musashi Mori (12-0, 7), in a bout to unify the two regional titles in the division.
As with so many Featherweight bouts in Japan recently, the bout is not just a really good one, between two very solid fighters, but also a match up between two men who are very talented, and have very different styles. It's the mix of styles that makes such a compelling match up, and will see both men being forced to prove what they can do against a fighter who will ask them very serious questions.
Of the two men the more well known is Satoshi Shimizu, 2-time Olympian who won bronze at the 2012 London games, losing in the semi final to Luke Campbell. He had hoped to compete at the 2016 Olympics, but after failing to qualify turned professional, at the advanced age of 30. The idea, originally, was to fast track him. After all he had been a stellar amateur with 150 amateur wins, and an Olympic gold medal. The fast tracking worked well early on, and he won the OPBF Featherweight title in his 4th professional bout, just just 13 months after his debut and raced out to 8-0 (8) whilst beginning to edge towards a world ranking. And then he flirted with the Super Featherweight division and got badly beaten by Joe Noynay in 2019, with Shimizu then requiring a long break from the ring and staying out of action for a year, in part to his injuries and in part due to Covid19. When he finally got back in action last year, he was already 34 and the clock was ticking on his career.
Since turning profession in 2016 there have been some really obvious things about Shimizu that can't be denied. Firstly he's not actually a very good boxer. He's clumsy, he's slow, he's wide with his punches and he does almost everything wrong. There is nothing about him that screams "former amateur stand out". Secondly he punches like a mule. Shimizu is a horrible boxer, but a brutal puncher, and when he lands clean fighters feel it. In fact when he lands just glancing blows opponents feel it. Thirdly, he's awkward as all hell. He's rangy a 5'11", southpaw at Featherweight. Add that to his power and he is just a nightmare to fight, even with all his technical flaws. Sadly at 35 it's now or never for Shimizu, and it's hard to imagine him ever making good on the promise he had when he turned professional.
Aged just 21 Musashi Mori is at the opponent end of his career, though is already an established young fighter who is rapidly rising through the ranks, and moving towards a world title fight. Like Shimizu he debuted in 2016, though did so as a 17 year old, in a 4 rounder, without any hype or noise around him. The following year he went on to win the All Japan Rookie of the Year, beating Zirolian Riku in the All Japan final in what was Mori's Korakuen Hall debut, at Super Featherweight. Following that win big things were predicted of the youngster but a genuine scare against Allan Vallespin saw some doubt creep in about the youngster. Rather than question his potential he did something smart, and realised he wasn't a natural Super Featherweight, and dropped to Featherweight instead. Since moving down in weight he has really found himself scoring 2 wins against Richard Pumicpic, winning the WBO Asia Pacific title in the first of those, as well as notching notable defenses against Takuya Mizuno and Tsuyoshi Tameda. As well as his impressive resume for such a young novice he has also been working with the amazing Ismael Salas, who has really helped develop Mori's boxing ability, brain and style, developing him into an excellent young fighter.
In regards to how Mori fights, he's an intelligent boxer, with some snap on his shots. Over the last few years he has toned down his aggression, used his jab a lot more, and really developed in to one of the best counter punchers in Japan. He's accurate, has quick hands, very good footwork and seems comfortable on the inside as well as at mid-range. Defensively there is still work to do, but that has been the area where has really improved so much from his early days, and it's clear that Salas has taught him a lot about defense, and how to control range. Sadly for him he does lack in terms of 1-shot power and physicality, and it's clear that a lot of fighters at Featherweight could bully him around, but he has enough sting on his shots to get respect from opponents, and lands his shots very clean, often as counters with opponents walking on to them.
In terms of abilities, Mori is the much, much better boxer. He's more polished, he's smoother, he's lighter on his feet, he moves better, and his jab is significantly better. If this was all about boxing ability, and just boxing ability, Mori wouldn't have any problems winning. Of course boxing is so much more than just skills and when you carry dynamite in your hands, as Shimizu does, this care never going to be easy. Especially given the awkwardness, reach and size of Shimizu, and the way he throws from some truly angles that fighters can't really prepare for.
We expect to see Mori showing a lot of respect to Shimizu early on. And we mean a lot of respect, but do so whilst picking and poking at Shimizu. Trying to rack up rounds without taking risks. As for Shimizu the key isn't to try and box, but to time Mori coming in, and tagging him before he can get to close. To have success Mori needs to work quickly, use his speed, and if he gets inside he needs to work up close, smothering the power of Shimizu in the process. If he can do that we'll see him chipping away at Shimizu round by round and establishing a clear lead on the scorecards.
Shimizu will always be dangerous, right through to the final bell, and he could turn the bout around at any moment, with a wild looping left hand, or wide right hook. That's a real danger that Mori will need to be wary of, even if he feels in control. If Mori can, however, avoid eating eating too many shots clean we see him taking a clear, and wide, decision over the 35 year old, unifying the two regional titles and establishing himself as one of the leading Japanese contenders at Featherweight, along with Hinata Maruta.
Prediction - UD12 Mori
When we think about fights that get us excited there is a general rule of thumb. Do we have two guys with styles that should gel? If so are those styles aggressive and exciting? If the answer to both of those questions is "yes" then we get super excited about what we could end up seeing, knowing perfectly well that we may well get something a little bit special.
With that in mind we're expecting something special on May 19th when we get the chance to see OPBF Welterweight champion Ryota Toyoshima (13-2-1, 8) take on WBO Asia Pacific champion Yuki Beppu (21-1-1, 20) in a brilliant unification bout, which could a genuine FOTY contender. Even if neither man is particularly well known outside of Japan. In fact it wouldn't be the first FOTY contender for either man, with both well known for fan friendly bouts, their limitations and their aggressive in ring mentalities. It will also be a bout where both men are wound a little bit tighter than usual, following the fact this bout was delayed, having originally been planned for May 5th.
Aged 30 Beppu is the older man, though is certainly not an older fighter by any stretch. In fact his 23 combined bouts have only lasted 64 rounds, and his career, which started in 2012, has not been a punishing one. At all. Beppu debuted in late 2012 and began to build some traction in 2013, before winning the All Japan Rookie of the Year in 2014, stopping future Japanese Light Middleweight champion Hironobu Matsunaga in 2 rounds in the final, to record his 7th straight TKO victory. He would extend that stoppage run up to 14 straight wins before fighting to a draw, in 2017, with the tough Charles Bellamy. After a few more blow out wins he suffered his first loss, in a Japanese elimiator against Yuki Nagano and, and then scored his first decision win in 2019, when he out pointed Jason Egera. It was however his December 2019 bout that put him on the boxing map, as he defeated Ryota Yada in an instant classic. That bout saw Beppu being dropped 5 times, but stopping Yada in round 10 to claim the WBO Asia Pacific Welterweight title. Sadly he's not been in the ring since that title win.
At his best Beppu is a scarily heavy handed boxer-puncher. Defensively he's not the best, and given Yada dropped him 5 times his chin is very questionable, but his heart, determination and will to win is incredible. His footwork is under-rated, his movement is also better than people give him credit for and he is certainly a more rounded boxer than most realise. Given how many times he got up against Yada it's clear he's a very determined fighter, and a determined fighter, with fight changing power is never an easy out for anyone. Sadly however he is a man who is easy to hit and despite being a power puncher he is a naturally smaller Welterweight, which is likely to be a real issue for him here, but not something that he can't, potentially, over-come.
Aged 25 Ryota Toyoshima is a man who debuted in 2014 and didn't really managed to make much noise early on. He fought to a draw on debut and suffered his first loss in his 4th professional bout, losing to Masaharu Kaito. He rebounded well, winning the 2016 All Japan Rookie of the Year before losing against to Kaito in 2017. That loss left the then 21 year old sporting a 7-2-1 (5) record, but he has rebuilt really well since then scoring 6 wins in a row, including recent wins over Moon Hyon Yun, Woo Min Won, Masafumi Ando and, most notably, Riku Nagahama, with the win over Nagahama netting him the OPBF title.
In the ring Toyoshima is an aggressive fighter who comes forward behind a tight high guard, he presses, and pressures and when in range he lets shots fly. He's not the most technical or the most defensively, especially when he lets his hands go, but he can take a good shot and has very respectable power himself. In fact he's willing to take one to land one, due to his power and chin. Whilst he does have a solid, stiff, jab, he doesn't use it as much as he should, and instead plods forward trying to get angles for his hooks and straight right hand. It's a tactic that can look sluggish and slow at times, but as bouts go on his pressure builds and he starts to have more and more success against fighters who are sapped from his constant forward march.
Given Toyoshima's love of marching forward, and the power of Beppu it's hard to not expect this to be an absolute tear up. Toyoshima is the less classically "skilled" of the two men, and the less powerful puncher, but he's the naturally bigger man, the stronger man and the more imposing man. Given Toyoshima has plenty of bang in his own shots there's a real chance he'll be able to put Beppu down, like Yada did, and maybe even drop him a few times. On the other hand Beppu is a determined terrier with a big bite. He will jump in an out, use his very under-rated jab and make the most of his speed.
We expect to see both men damaged here, we expect to see at least one knockdown each way, and by the end we expect to see both men looking a mess. Expect to see both men marked up, bloodied, and feeling the effects of some huge head shots.
As for picking a winner, we're going with Beppu, in a late stoppage, in what could well be the Japanese fight of the year. We think his long lay off, since late 2019, will serve him well here, especially given how Toyoshima was in a war just a few months ago. Saying that however we wouldn't be surprised at all if the referee ends up needing to wave this off, in favour of either man.
Prediction - SD12 Beppu
This coming Sunday a lot of attention will be focused on Osaka, as we get the long awaited WBC Light Flyweight world title bout between Kenshiro Teraji (17-0, 10) and Tetsuya Hisada (34-10-2, 20), around 4 years after they were first supposed to fight. That however isn't the only bout of note in Japan this weekend, in fact over in Okinawa around the same time we get the chance to see a very notable WBO Asia Pacific title fight between a former world champion and youngster looking to secure a a massive win, in just his 4th professional bout.
That bout is the one between former WBC Flyweight champion Daigo Higa (17-1-1, 17), the current WBO Asia Pacific Bantamweight champion, and highly touted prospect Ryosuke Nishida (3-0, 1), who is looking to build on a huge win from late 2020. The bout lacks the allure of the world title fight in Osaka, but is certainly not a bout that should be ignored, and could end up actually being the more compelling bout when all is said and done.
It's needless to say that Diago Higa is the more well known fighter. In fact there was a time, not too long ago, that he was among the most spoken about Japanese fighters in the sport. He was a steam train early in his career, blowing away fighters in quick fashion and winning his first 15 bouts by stoppage. Along the way he took notable scalps, including Kongfah CP Freshmart, who he beat in Thailand for the WBC Youth title, Ardin Diale, who he beat for the OPF title, Juan Hernandez Navarrete, who he beat for the WBC title and Moises Fuentes. In many ways he looked like the Japanese Roman Gonzalez, with the Japanese press dubbing him "The Romagon of Okinawa" after Gonzalez.
Sadly Higa's stoppage run came to an end in 2018 when he lost in 9 rounds to Cristofer Rosales after coming in overweight for a defense of the WBC Flyweight title. That loss, and the subsequent suspension for missing weight from the JBC, saw Higa stay away from the ring for almost 2 years, before returning in early 2020 and beating Jason Buenabora in 6 rounds. That bout was followed by Higa soon leaving the Shirai Gushiken Sports Gym, who had guided his entire career, and signing up with the newly established Ambition gym. It was thought a new gym would reinvigorate Higa, who had admitted his motivation for the sport was waning. Sadly for him his first bout as an Ambition gym fighter didn't end well, with Higa only managing a draw as he met former amateur rival, and close personal friend, Seiya Tsutsumi. It seemed that a forced move from Flyweight to Bantamweight was going to be a problem for Higa, with the new weight not playing well with his style. At least that's what we though until the very end of 2020 when he demolished Yuki Strong Kobayashi in 5 rounds to claim the WBO Asia Pacific title and looked like the Higa of old.
At the moment it's still unclear how the forced move up in weight for Higa will work longer term. He looked brilliant against Kobayashi, not quite his best but still a brilliant and destructive performance, but he looked poor against Buenaobra and certainly didn't look his best against Tsutsumi. He also didn't look great when he took part in an exhibition against Naoya Inoue, when Inoue seemed to want to teach Higa a bit of a lesson at times. It's going to be interesting to see how he develops at the weight, and whether he has the tools, and size, needed to be a success here. If he does he'll be a brilliant addition to an already fantastic weight class.
Whilst Higa is a big name, a well established fighter and someone who fans will have heard of if they follow the lower weights, the same cannot be said of Ryosuke Nishida. In fact Nishida is one that only hardcore fans of the Japanese scene will know anything about. Though they will likely tell you, as we will, that's a hidden gem of a fighter who has already been hugely impressive in his 3 fight, 15 round, professional career.
Nishida turned professional in 2019, following a strong amateur career, and his team did the usual big talk, claiming that no one in Japan wanted to fight him and he had to debut in Thailand as a result, where he blew out Sakol Ketkul. Around 10 weeks after his professional debut he made his Japanese debut and dominated Filipino journeyman Pablito Canada, taking a very wide decision win over 6 rounds. Sadly his rise through the ranks was slowed in 2020 due to Covid19, which decimated the Japanese boxing calendar for the year, but in December he squeezed in a fight and put on a brilliant performance against former world title challenger Shohei Omori. He entered that bout as a big under-dog but put in a performance not befitting a then 2-0 (1) prospect. In fact if anything he looked every bit as good as his team had told us he was.
In the ring Nishida couldn't be much different to Higa if he tried. Whilst Higa is a short, powerful, pressure fighter, with a major offensive mindset, who has had to move from 112lbs to 118lbs Nishida really is the opposite. He is a tall, southpaw, who is moving in down in weight, and focuses on boxing and moving, using his educated feet, his amateur pedigree being clear every time he steps in the ring. He has quick hands, good movement and he boxes with his brain, not his brawn.
Although there is only limited footage of Nishida to get a read on him as a fighter, with his debut not surfacing and being pretty pointless to scout him off regardless, it's hard to say how good he really is, but it's clear that he is, at the least, very good. He's patient, has good timing, he's composed, smart and a sharp fighter. His jab and footwork are really good and in the bout with Omori he looked like a man with much, much more to offer. In fact in the later rounds, when he already had a comfortable lead, he seemed to want to put the cherry on the top of his performance and stop Omori. With that in mind we suspect his stamina is going to be good, he had energy to burn late on. One worry about him however, is how his body reacts to moving down to 118lbs, having fought all of his bouts at, or around, 122lbs so far. If he can make the weight with no issues he could be a real handful. Not just for Higa, but for a lot of very good fighters.
If Nishida makes the 118lb limit without taking much out of himself, and there's a good chance he can, then this is going to be a real test of character for Higa. Nishida is the type of fighter who we feel has the footwork, jab and timing to frustrate Higa, round after round. We've not seen his chin really being tested, though he was caught a few times by Omori and took them well, but if he can take a good shot from Higa he has a real chance off scoring an upset. That will be an even bigger chance if Hishida, moving down, has some more pop on his shots.
Higa will, obviously, be strongly favoured, and many who haven't seen Nishida will feel he's being thrown to the wolves. In reality however he's the latest Japanese fighter to show a willingness to take risks early and want to advance his career quickly. He will come into this bout as a very live underdog. It's a huge step up for him, but it's certainly one he has a chance in.
In regards to how the bout will be. We see Higa barrelling forward, it's how Nishida deals with that that will decide the bout. Higa is what he is. A strong, pressure fighter with lovely combinations, but a poor defense, and a significant size disadvantage at Bantamweight. If Nishida can cope with the pressure he'll win here however that's a huge if, and many will suspect he'll fold under the Higa pressure.
We are believers that a good big guys beats a good little guy, and with that in mind we're going with the surprise upset here. We feel Nishida will struggle at times, but manage to, just, do enough to take the win, using his size as a major tool.
Prediction - UD12 Nishida
On February 27th we'll see fast rising Kazakh hopeful Kamshybek Kunkabayev (2-0, 2) take part in his first title bout as he battles Northern Irish fighter Steven Ward (13-1, 4) in a contest for the WBO Asia Pacific Cruiserweight title, in Kazakhstan. On paper this looks like the next step en route to making Kunkabayev a star, and will see him take on a decent fighter, but someone he should beat. On the other hand it gives Ward a high profile bout against a top former amateur, a chance to get his career back in track after a 2019 loss to the under-rated, and wonderfully charming, Ricards Bolotniks.
To begin with, we don't know how Ward qualifies for a WBO Asia Pacific title bout. It appears that every so often a title and its rules and regulations go out of the window and this appears to be one of those cases. Despite that we are, genuinely, looking forward to this bout and suspect it will be a coming out party, of sorts, for the fantastically promising Kunkabayev, who may well be on the fast track to major success.
The 29 year old Kazakh made his professional debut last August, with the intention of using the professional scene to stay busy and stay finely tuned ahead of the Tokyo Olympics. An Olympics that had already been delayed and, even as we write this, isn't a sure thing due to Covid19. Unlike many fighters who take stay busy fights Kunkabayev didn't want easy bouts to stay busy and instead took on Issa Akberbayev, who seemingly didn't want to be there. He then returned to the ring in December and took on the usually solid Serhiy Radchenko, and scored a 4th round RTD win. After just 2 wins it seemed that Kunkabayev was already showing the tools of being a fantastic professional and with the Olympics looking less and less likely we do wonder whether his mind set has changed to focusing on the professional scene, rather than the amateur one.
Despite impressing as a professional it is worth noting that Kunkabayev really is a top notch amateur. He was a 2-time World Championship silver medal winner and 2-time Asian Championship silver medal winner. His amateur credentials speak for themselves, and unsurprisingly he is a very, very well polished boxer. At 6'3" he's got good size for a Cruiserweight and he knows how to use his frame well. He has a sharp jab, moves surprisingly lightly on his feet, has an excellent southpaw left hand, and is technically very good. Despite being impressive it is worth noting that his first two opponents have shown almost no ambition against him and not asked any questions, and he's really looked like a man who hasn't got out of first gear yet. It'll be interesting to see what happens when an opponent takes the fight to him, and doesn't show him far, far, far, too much respect.
In Steven Ward we have a 30 year old who began his career in 2016 as a Light Heavyweight. His career went swimmingly early on and he won his first 12 bouts, including a notable win in 2018 against Steve Collins Jr and a good 2019 win over Liam Conroy. Sadly however his winning run came to an end in late 2019 when he was stopped inside a round by Ricards Bolotniks in WBO European Light Heavyweight title bout. Against Sadly for Ward the loss to Bolotniks, and the win over Conroy, saw him being dropped and there are real question marks as to whether that was due to a poor chin, or weight issues, with Ward being a big Light Heavyweight at 6'2". Since the loss to Bolotniks he has moved up in weight and we dare say that the increase in weight will be better for his body, though we do still wonder about his durability.
In the ring Ward is a fighter who likes to use his jab, and likes to keep things at a safe range. Sadly however that tactic failed against Bolotniks, who managed to drop him with a left hook mid way through the round and then got all over him and dropped him twice more. That was against a much smaller man. Kunkabayev on the other hand is bigger than Ward and won't be backed off by the jab of the Northern Irishman. In fact if anything Ward trying to jab at Kunkabayev could end up speeding up his downfall. Sadly it's hard to really see what Ward brings to this bout to make him a test. He is, on paper, a step up for Kunkabeyv, but in reality offers very, very little.
On paper Ward looks like a good match up. He's more experienced than Kunkabayev, at least in the professional ranks, but that's pretty much the only advantage he has. He's the naturally smaller man, the less polished, the chinnier, the lesser puncher and the less talented. Ward might have the professional experience but that won't help when Kunkabayev catched him, hurts him, and finishes him.
If we're being honest we suspect Kunkabayev to feel out his man for a round or two, then put his foot on the gas and finish this within 4 rounds to take home his first professional title, and take a huge stride towards a potential world title fight by the end of 2021.
Prediction - Kunkabayev TKO4
Having canned the old "Full Schedule" of Asianboxing we have instead decided to concentrate more on the major bouts. This section, the "Preview" section will look at major bouts involving OPBF and national titles. Hopefully leading to a more informative style for, you the reader.